Dave and I have been watching coverage of the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. One of the topics that usually comes up during disaster coverage is whether or not there will be looting or violence. What's looting when you don't have a house, food, or much of anything? Rampant disorder is one thing, but looking at images of people milling around the entrance of a grocery store, or walking away with a bag of food, we wondered if that's more like "surviving".
When we lived in Florida, Hurricane Wilma left us without water or power for a week. We had about 3 days' worth of food, so by day 5 or so we decided to venture out and see if any supermarkets were open. We finally found a Publix that had no power, but the employees were still able to ring up sales. We battled with about two hundred other people over boxes of trail mix and saltines.
During the last few days we'd heard of fistfights happening in gas station lines or among people waiting for local government agencies to hand out ice (yes, ice was that much of a precious commodity), so I tried not to piss anyone off. If that lady wants the box of crackers I was reaching for, then let her have it. No problem.
Later that day, on our way home, we passed one of those long gas station lines and saw two guys leap out of their respective cars and beat each other silly.
So when I see people jostling somewhere in Port au Prince to grab a loaf of bread from a semi-destroyed market, my instinct is to not call it looting. Because you know what? I have seen Americans go apeshit over 5 days of not being able to fill up their gas tank.